What to do With Your Kids on a Snow Day

We were gearing up for the blizzard of the century. Historic snowfalls were predicted, I spent over $80 on flashlights and batteries, my husband played Charles Ingalls and stocked up on firewood, salt, wine and shovels. Our plan, if we were lucky enough to keep our power, was to hunker down, catch up on some movies and hope for the best.

We woke up this morning to just a couple of inches. I feel cheated, while at the same time, am really happy we are warm and school will resume tomorrow. The question is now, how do we spend the day? It doesn’t have that survival feel I was emotionally prepping for, so I suppose we need to get busy. I surveyed the family, and here’s what’s on our list:

Do a jigsaw puzzle. You have one sitting in a closet somewhere and, it is not as boring as it sounds. It’s like meditating in a group.

Build a snowman - of course – but, with a twist. We’re going to watch a little of Frozen to get inspired, and then compete in teams. Who can build the most creative snow creature?

Play Chopped - If you haven’t watched the show on Food Network, check it out On Demand. Pick three varying ingredients and see who can come up with the best appetizer, main course and dessert using all three ingredients and any other edible products they can find. Judging should be based appearance, taste and creativity.

Karaoke - Get silly. If you don’t have the machine, or the video game, try this app. A snow day is a great time to let your kids see your crazy side — by that I mean your college crazy side and not your Jack Nicholson from the Shining crazy side.

 

Have a game marathon - Let everyone pick their favorite board game or activity and make a schedule. If your family has a competitive side, keep score and assign prizes.

 

Get creative, put down your work and your smart phone if you can, and enjoy a day with your kids where you can all let out your inner kid.

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When is Bad Behavior a Real Problem?

My oldest daughter used to throw tantrums which could stump Mary Poppins. She would bang her head into the floor when things didn’t go her way. It was awful. I worried so much. I was convinced she was going to be a horrible person. She isn’t, and so far is the easiest, happiest teenager. One of my 5 year old twins used to lose his mind, really lose his mind, if someone accidentally flushed the toilet after he used it. Instead of being worried, I had the gift of perspective from Madelyn. It was actually kind of funny, especially for anyone who wasn’t his mother. Had it continued though, I would’ve stopped laughing and started stressing. When should you worry?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new guidelines to help physicians and other health care providers diagnose behavioral problems. Guidelines mostly included ways to make it easier to recognize and track children with emotional problems. As parents are usually the first ones to recognize a problem in their kids, I assembled some signs and symptoms which should raise red flags at home. It is important to note, every child is different and kids do go through phases. These are not meant to frighten you and send you running for a specialist, but do remember early intervention is often critical when there is a real issue. If you have any concerns, talk to your child’s doctor sooner rather than later.

– A persistent pattern of anger and outbursts

– Frequent complaints of physical ailments

– Changes in sleep or eating problems

–  Persistent nightmares or night terrors

– Excessive worrying and anxiety or fear

– Hyperactivity

– Frequent temper tantrums

– Signs of aggression against other people or animals

– Spending a lot of time alone

– Persistent disobedience

Challenging children can upset the entire home and wreak havoc on a family. Sometimes it is just a matter of patience and waiting it out. Unfortunately, sometimes it is more serious. Some reports say up to 20% of American children have a diagnosable behavioral problem. While I do worry kids are being incorrectly or over diagnosed, the advantage is more children are getting the help they need early. Don’t wait too long to speak with your doctor.

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Can Your Twitter Predict Your Heart Health?

Most people understand the risk factors for heart disease — high cholesterol, hypertension, family history and obesity all contribute. But, can your tweets also predict risk of developing heart disease? A new study out of the University of Pennsylvania says they can.

Your tweets reflect your current state of mind, and certain emotions, like anger, stress, exhaustion and frustration increase your likelihood of cardiovascular disease. How do you measure a population’s mental state? By looking at Twitter of course. Billions of people use twitter to vent, exclaim, complain, rejoice and share. That’s a lot of data showing what people are feeling.

Researchers looked at tweets by geographic area, focusing on both positive and negative key words like “hate” and “wonderful” and mapped them. They then compared their findings with heart disease rates in the same areas. They claim Twitter was better able predict mortality from cardiac disease than a traditional model which looks at demographic, socioeconomic and health risk factors combined.

If nothing else, the study underscores the importance of stress reduction and maintaining a positive attitude … even in the midst of this dreary winter. #BeHappy

Image from University of Pennsylvania

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Measles and Mickey — One More Reason to Vaccinate

I know it is hard to take your baby for his or her vaccinations. I know it breaks your heart to see him hurt, to hold her still while someone injects her chubby little legs. Maybe you don’t really understand how vaccinations work and are fearful of what is coming out of the syringe into your child’s body. Maybe you are worried about the side effects. Maybe you have a fear of needles. I’m a parent. I get it. And, I am here to say, you need to get over it.

Vaccinations are one of the most incredible advances in medical history. With them, scientists have eradicated or all but eradicated many diseases. Without everyone’s participation, though, they can’t be completely effective. For years, people who thought they knew better, were able to hide behind herd immunity. Herd immunity happens when most people in a population are immune, thereby protecting the ones who aren’t. Essentially, if no one is getting sick, there is no one to get sick from.

The outbreak at Disneyland is evidence that herd immunity is less and less effective as more people choose not to have their children vaccinated and travel is more accessible. The world is small. We saw it with Ebola. A disease in Africa can make its way to the U.S. Unlike Ebola, which scares the daylights out of everyone, but is not very contagious (it is highly infectious) measles is extremely contagious. This means it is very easy to catch.

Over 40 people contracted measles in Disneyland and many more were likely traveling during the incubation period. If you and your children are vaccinated, you are safe. We are so fortunate to live in a time and in a place where immunizations are available. I urge you to take advantage.  Measles can cause mild to severe complications including ear infections bronchitis, pneumonia, and low platelet count. 1 in 1,000 people with measles will develop encephalitis which can result in death, especially in young children. If you are worried, get informed, but know where your information comes from. As you would with any decision, trust only credible, reliable sources. Do not be swayed by the noise generated by a misinformed few. Just because people shout the loudest, does not make them correct. Vaccinations save lives.

vaccination

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Stand Up for Better Health

A study released this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine reinforces something most of us inherently know. Sitting for too many hours a day is unhealthy. The study was able to quantify the risk of a sedentary lifestyle, and showed a significant increase in heart disease, diabetes, cancer and early death.

Not surprisingly, people who sit for 8-9 hours a day and do not get regular exercise are at greatest risk of the ill effects of being a couch potato. However, the study also showed, those who practice intense exercise and sit for many hours a day, are also at increased risk. If you sit at a desk all day, even if you consider yourself an active person, make a conscious effort to get up and move at least once or twice every hour. (I’m talking directly to my husband right now.) Even standing for 1-3 minutes every half hour will make a big difference.

– On your commute, get up and stand occasionally.

– Take the stairs.

– Drink water, but don’t fill a jug. Force yourself to get up for a refill frequently.

– Stand at your desk and work.

– Hide your remote — gasp!

Simple standing not only burns twice as many calories as sitting, it can prolong your life and preserve your health. Get on up.

 

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Longer Working Hours Increase Risk for Alcoholism

A study released yesterday in the British Medical Journal shows evidence a longer work week translates into a higher risk for problem drinking. Researchers looked at over 80 studies, with over 430,000 participants and found that people who work 49 hours or more per week, have a greater incidence of risky drinking. Results were adjusted for sex, age, and socioeconomic factors. The European Union Working Time Directive suggests an upper limit of 48 hours per week. I am sure this study will reinforce these standards. America doesn’t have such recommendations, and I assume U.S. companies will simply start serving vodka in the vending machines to reward their hardest working employees. To hell with addiction, bring on the profits.

In addition to highlighting yet another danger of all work, no play, the study helps to explain the white wine consumption among stay at home mothers. Now, if we could only shorten the parenting work week, think of all the livers we’d save!

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Please Do Not Put Butter in Your Coffee

I just heard on the radio about putting butter in your coffee. I really hoped this “trend” would be long gone by now. Apparently, proponents claim if you put butter in your coffee, the fat in the butter will prevent the 4pm crash most people experience on a daily basis. Holy cow. It seems people are really doing this. I know the late afternoon lethargy stinks, but don’t be a butter drinker. I heard it and started yelling at the radio, “No, no, no, no, no … not again!” The DJ didn’t hear me, and just kept on talking. You may have been listening to the same station. Don’t do it.

While I am doubtful there is good scientific proof that adding loads of fat to your caffeinated drink will fight fatigue, even if it did work, here’s what else you’ll get in addition to a boost. Two tablespoons of butter — the recommended dose — has 200 calories, 180mg of sodium and 22g of fat, of which 14g is saturated. That’s about 75% of your total recommended dose of saturated fat in a day — all before you’ve had your breakfast. So, in addition to an energy boost, you’ll be getting a cholesterol, weight and blood pressure boost. Not to mention, it really sounds disgusting.

Last year, there were reports like the Times cover story about butter not being as bad for our heart health as we’ve been led to believe. They were based on good scientific evidence and encouraged an overall healthy diet. I love to cook, I sometimes love to cook with butter and have always followed a diet based on moderation, not elimination. I was happy to see research that the demonization of fat was misguided. However, I don’t think we should start eating it by the stick.

Here are some ways to boost your energy at 4pm without piling on the calories. These REALLY work, and you won’t have to spend 1/2 hour on the treadmill to counteract them.

– Get moving. Take a walk. Stand up and stretch. Do a few down dogs or other inversions. Getting your heart pumping a little faster will drive more blood flow to your brain.

– Drink a large glass or two of water. Dehydration is often confused with fatigue. Before you go for that next cup of coffee, with or without butter, try quenching your body’s need for fluids.

– Have a piece of fruit or a handful of berries and nuts. The natural sugar will provide the fuel you need to get through the rest of the day.

– Take a break. Often, simply getting away from your current task, can renew your sense of purpose. Put down what you are working on, and pick up something else.

– Laugh. There is nothing like laughter to get you out of a slump. Seek out a funny colleague, call a friend who makes you giggle, or google a video of your favorite sitcom moments. Marsha Brady getting hit by the football gets me every time.

Even if you do nothing, the afternoon slump usually goes away on its own. Be patient and step away from the butter.

 

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Christmas 2015 — A Letter to Myself

I just put away all my Christmas decorations. I’ll be sweeping up pine needles for months and the last thing I want to think about is next Christmas. But … I’m going to force myself to spend fifteen minutes planning for next year. This past December, the holiday felt like a full time job, for which I was paid in stress, children’s happy faces, stress, red wine and stress. Christmas is my Super Bowl, and while I did win, it was a back and forth game for a while. My goal being not only victory, which I measure in kids’ joy and maintenance of my own sanity, but survival, which I measure in my ability to stand up straight and hold an adult conversation on Christmas night.

Just as one reflects after a job interview or project on what could have done better and what was done well, I’m reflecting on last month. Heaven knows I will not remember anything 11 months from now, so I am writing a letter to myself and putting it away with my Halloween decorations. This is an example for public viewing. The real thing will be much more embarrassing, but it is going to sound something like this:

Dear Karen,

You were a rock star last Christmas. Everyone had a wonderful season and you only lost your patience once … maybe twice. We won’t dwell on that. Right about now, on October 20th, the carols are starting to play in the stores amidst all the skeletons and cobwebs, and you are feeling that familiar tingle of anxiety. Let me ease your mind. Yes, it will all get done, but only because you will do it. Don’t panic. Let’s first talk about what you did right and should do again.

– Start shopping early. Bang out the group or personalized gifts that don’t need gift receipts, e.g. teachers’ gifts, work gifts, ornaments, hostess gifts, etc.

– Wrap as you go. Buy extra scissors, tape and tissue and establish a set spot in your house exclusively for wrapping.

– Take care of yourself because, again, the only way it will all get done is if you do it.

– Plan some adult fun.

ETC.

Now, let’s talk about what you could’ve done better.

– Christmas cards can be ordered stamped and addressed EARLY. The kids are not going to change in the course of 2 months. Think how happy you will be to get that done before the madness sets in.

– Put up the outside lights on the first warm day of December, even if you have to cancel plans. Test them BEFORE you put them up.

– Follow up on every online order, so there are no surprises.

– Save boxes. No stores will have any left.

ETC.

Finally, some reminders:

– You used _____ cards and you had just enough.

– You overbought for _______ and underbought for _______.

– Your husband is only a man and therefore incapable of being truly helpful at Christmastime. Tell him exactly what you need, but don’t expect Buddy the Elf.

ETC.

(Now, the pep talk.) You’ve done it before. You can do it again. Make time for deep breaths, gratitude and egg nog. While you would snap at anyone else who told you this, hopefully you will believe me. Most of the things you stress over, will amount to nothing. You deserve a nice holiday season too. Only you can make it happen for yourself.

Your friend in Stressmas,

Karen

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